Do Luxury Retailers Discriminate Against People of Color

If you call yourself a “true New Yorker,” then you’ve heard of the city’s luxury retail outlets, such as Macy’s and Barneys New York. Stores like these cater to the most well-off in this town

Last fall, these two retailers were making headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. They found themselves on the wrong end of racial profiling claims.

The controversy started last October, when two black shoppers accused Barneys and the New York Police Department of targeting them because of their skin color. First, Trayon Christian, a
nineteen-year-old City College student, said they targeted him “because they didn’t think he could afford a $300 Ferragamo belt,” according to CBS New York. Then, another black customer, Kayla Phillips, came forward to accuse Barneys and the NYPD of profiling, following the legitimate purchase of a $2,500 Celine purse, according to the New York Daily News.

Like Christian, the 21-year-old Phillips said the undercover NYPD officers harassed her and accused her of credit card fraud. They even asked how she could afford such an item. Christian has filed suit against the Police Department and Barneys, with Phillips to follow.

Not to be outdone, Macy’s has been entangled in its own racial profiling scandal. Three shoppers have come forward with allegations of profiling at the luxury retailer, including “Treme” actor Rob Brown, who has filed suit against the NYPD and Macy’s.

Another of those Macy’s shoppers, New York City police officer Jenny Mendez, said she was wrongfully arrested for shoplifting after store security lied that she had confessed to the crime, according to The Huffington Post. She has also filed suit against Macy’s.

Mendez claims that the false charges led to her termination from the Police Department after less than one year on the job.
“It is apparent that the sole reason for stopping [Jenny] was due to her Hispanic heritage and that the subsequent arrest, detainment and prosecution was racially motivated,” the Mendez suit alleges. In light of the racial profiling controversy, civil rights leaders and retail executives met and drafted a customer “Bill of Rights” that will protect minority customers from being targeted based upon
the color of their skin.

According to the Daily News, the bill of rights states that any employee that
profiles customers could be disciplined, or even face termination. Vulgarity and excessive force while detaining suspects are also prohibited as part of this bill. The retail stores will be tested to ensure that
they comply with the bill of rights, and the bill must be highly visible to customers.

“Profiling is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated,” reads the document, according to The New York Times. “Employees that violate the company’s prohibition on profiling will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”

The bill of rights, which draws from existing store policies prohibiting racial profiling, amounts to a promise to abide by the rules, while recognizing the strong impact of profiling on minority shoppers.
However, only time will tell if this measure will work or cause more problems in the end.

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